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Letter: Saving Costs and Souls

To the Editor:

The Grafton County Drug Court is an innovative, effective, cost-saving and soul-saving project. Created by retired New Jersey prosecutor Robert Gasser, the court is paid for by county funds. Adjacent to the Grafton County Correctional Facility, where it costs $30,000 a year to house an inmate, drug court costs $12,000 a year for a client to participate in this 18-month rehabilitation program, which has an impressive 50 percent post-program success rate with the bafflingly difficult problem of substance abuse.

I attended the court as a student in a course offered by ILEAD (Institute for Lifelong Learning at Dartmouth).

The court sessions and the graduation ceremony are one big Skinner box — a reward-punishment structure.

Stay sober and clean, participate in 12-step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous; Narcotics Anonymous), get a job, and pay for a place to live, and the court rewards you after 18 months of establishing this new behavior pattern by wiping your record clean of the criminal charge.

The court’s team of social workers and people in law enforcement aren’t pushovers.

There are unannounced weekly urine tests, sometimes more than once in a day. Violators get an involuntary-vacation in jail for days or weeks, but can return to the drug court (feet and hands shackled) to petition to work on building a clean life after a hearing before the judge. There is however a point past no return.

Success is met with actual hand-clapping applause in court by spectators, judge, prosecutor and drug court support team. Medallions are handed out for periods of sober/clean rule-abiding behavior. Completion of the program ends in an impressive certificate-awarding graduation ceremony where judges, state legislators, a county commissioner and other dignitaries speak and applaud the graduates’ achievements. Each of the three young graduation candidates I witnessed spoke from a lectern to an audience of 100. A future graduate gave a guitar performance of an original composition.

Bravo, Grafton County Drug Court and its supporters, the Friends of Grafton County Drug Court, which rewards clients with gift certificates, loans to restore drivers’ licenses, buy books for courses and make security deposits on apartments.

Paul D. Keane

Hartford Village